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Bill Viola: The Passions

29 July – 6 November 2005

Introduction | The Passions | Viola by night: ART-TALKS-FILMS-MUSIC


Emotions on Small Screens

At the Getty Viola became more familiar with devotional painting of the late Middle Ages, read Medieval texts and continued his life-long study of eastern mystical writings. He also spent a good deal of time looking at pictures. Inspired by the startling realism of small Flemish paintings intended to move the viewer to pity, Viola made several pieces portraying weeping figures. Partially modelled on Dieric Bouts’ tiny panels, Dolorosa suggests meditation on the fate of Jesus while also alluding to domestic family photographs. In extreme slow motion, and on continuous loop, the female and male figures exist in an eternal and perpetual sorrow, a meditation on Everyman.

As the witnesses to Christ’s death, the Virgin Mary and Saint John are inevitably shown in scenes of the Crucifixion. The graphic nature of the Crucifixion by Siennese painter Giovanni di Paolo makes Christ’s suffering immediate and real to the viewer. The triangular structure of the composition focuses attention on the Christ figure: the deathly pallor of his skin and the ethereal quality of the loincloth are dramatically contrasted against the colour, vibrancy and earth-bound nature of the witnesses below.

Many of Viola’s previous video installation works involved projections in dark galleries, but in 2000 he began to use small screens that can be seen in ordinary light. He drew a link between small, devotional paintings of the 15th century and his use of LCD screens: ‘When you got to your inn, you could open it up and do your prayers; it was like everyone getting their own laptop, basically.' Books of Hours – small, portable compendiums of devotional texts – were made for personal use and in large quantities; the ivory diptychs produced in France during the Gothic era were a kind of Book of Hours in relief. The 19th-century example in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection was produced with an enthusiasm for this period and shows the scenes from the life of Christ, from the entry into Jerusalem to the Crucifixion.

Giovanni di PAOLO ' Crucifixion with donor Jacopo di Bartolomeo' c.1455, tempera and gold leaf on panel, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1977   Bill VIOLA 'Dolorosa' 2000, video diptych on two freestanding hinged LCD flat panels, artist's proof, collection of the artist, � Bill Viola, photograph: Kira Perov   Bill VIOLA 'Dolorosa' 2000, video diptych on two freestanding hinged LCD flat panels, artist’s proof, collection of the artist, © Bill Viola, photograph: Kira Perov  
Giovanni di PAOLO 'Crucifixion with donor Jacopo di Bartolomeo' c.1455, tempera and gold leaf on panel, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1977          
Artist unknown 'Scenes from the Passion of Christ' mid-19th century, ivory, brass and nails, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, gift of Professor and Mrs HW Arndt 1981   Artist unknown 'Scenes from the Passion of Christ' mid-19th century, ivory, brass and nails, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, gift of Professor and Mrs HW Arndt 1981  

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This text has been adapted from the brochure produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum for its presentation of Bill Viola: The Passions in 2003